Named after the beloved children’s books by Can-Lit legend Mordecai Richler, Hooded Fang is one of Toronto’s most underrated bands. Led by the inexhaustible Daniel Lee aka Lee Paradise (Phedre, Daps Records), Hooded Fang have been around for years. Their discography includes three great full-length albums and an EP. My favourite release from their discography is their 2010 album Album (or self-titled…it’s not entirely clear…).
Album is a phenomenal collection of indie pop songs. The compositions are tight, the lyrics mature and insightful (if not overtly sophisticated) and the arrangements colorful and playful. There are wonderful horn and string flourishes throughout and the vocal trade-off from song to song between Lee’s baritone and Lorna Wright‘s coo is a classic indie-rock move that no one ever gets tired of. But there’s also a tinge of melancholy that runs through everything, making Album feel like the Sunday dawn closing out a great summer weekend.
Hooded Fang‘s later albums are no slouches either. It may very well be that the only reason I like Album the most is because it’s the one I’ve spent the most time with. Honestly, I didn’t even hear about the second and third album when they came out, but only some time after the release of each. Lee and his Daps crew sometimes seem to work like that. They just make great music. You’ll hear about it sooner or later.
Stephen Stills is kind of an interesting case. After the dissolution of Buffalo Springfield, of the band’s three principle songwriters – Richie Furay, Neil Young and Stills – Stills was considered by many to be the most promising. Of course, it was Stills who wrote Buffalo Springfield‘s biggest hit, “For What It’s Worth”, as well as “Bluebird”, the centrepiece of the band’s best album, Buffalo Springfield Again.
Stills would later achieve stardom and success as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young), but he never attained the legendary solo artist status that his sometimes friend and bandmate Young did. For the most part, this is understandable: Young was always the more interesting, experimental and ahead-of-his-time songwriter. That being said, in the current historical narrative, Stills is often given short-shrift. His short-lived 70s band Manassas is a perfect example of this.
Though Manassas and their first, self-titled album were successful back in the day, the album is one few talk about these days and without good reason. Mannasas is a sprawling, ambitious two-disc mix of Southern rock, country, blues and bluegrass that holds together beautifully, supported as it is by a stellar cast of musicians (including ex-Byrd/Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman, Al Perkins, and The Rolling Stones‘ Bill Wyman) and a lot of great songwriting. The album is very much a product of its time, but not so much that it doesn’t still hold up. Just listen to should-be-classic tracks like “Both Of Us (Bound To Lose)” and “Right Now”.
Actually, if one had to pick Manassas’ closest musical relative, it would probably be The Rolling Stones‘ own classic double-album mix of rock, blues, folk and country: the explosively-inspired, heroin-fueled Exile On Mainstreet. Manassas may not have Exile‘s incredible, era-defining energy, but it is the more authentically American of the two. And that’s gotta count for something, right? Even if it doesn’t, Manassas is still a great album. Perhaps the greatest you’ll find in the used-vinyl dollar bin. If you see it there, consider grabbing it. If people catch on to what a forgotten classic it is, it might not be there much longer.
One of the weird things about New York is that because it’s so insanely urban (especially Manhattan), a lot of people there develop a crazy craving for the outdoors. I definitely felt it and, as a result, I spent a lot of time in my apartment dreaming of moving to British Columbia. Even as I type this, the wallpaper on my phone and my laptop are pictures my friend Breanna took while travelling across B.C. So now at least when I go to check my email I can see that magical place…
My craving for B.C. led me back to the province’s awesome music scene (mostly bands from Vancouver and sometimes Victoria). Especially the ragged stuff. Bands like Black Mountain. Japandroids. Ladyhawk. And then from there I started trying to find out about other cool bands from Vancouver that I might’ve missed. Eventually my searches turned up The Mohawk Lodge.
I think the first thing I heard was their most recent album, 2012’s Damaged Goods. I wasn’t really into it, but I decided to check out some tracks from one other album, 2007’s Wildfires, just in case their older stuff was better. Well, it was and is. But even better than Wildfires is their 2010 album Crimes. To be fair, frontman Ryder Havdale ditched Vancouver for Toronto in 2008 and recorded Crimes there, but it still feels more like a Vancouver album than a Toronto one.
What makes Crimes and Wildfires so compelling is the same ragged heart-on-sleeve, B.C. dive bar beauty that you can hear in the music of bands like Ladyhawk and Japandroids. They sing about love and stuff, but it’s stoner love, hitch-hiker love, bearded, fleeting, irresponsible, immature, dirty and glorious. Half of what they miss is the girl, but the other half is the time, the place, the moment. Like in “Younger Us” when Japandroids sing “Give me the night you were already in bed/Said “fuck it”, got up to drink with me instead.” It’s that very B.C. feeling.
As great as both albums are, Crimes is a bit more consistent. The production on songs like “Let Go” – with its playful, layered vocals and the hand claps that come in halfway through – is also a cut above the band’s previous work. Sometimes it’s a bit too clean actually, and the best songs on Wildfires actually strike a better balance between gritty and produced, but most of the songs on Crimes are still great.
I wanted to go to Vancouver again this summer. I was planning to take a road trip from Portland, OR to Dawson City in the Yukon Territories, but I’m not even sure if I’ll have a week to go back to Toronto and visit my family this summer, let alone take what would need to be at least a month-long road trip. Stupid law school-intern-work life. Yeah, I know, it’s the responsible path, but sometimes I just want to say screw it and live in that B.C. feeling forever. Until that day comes though, I guess I’ll just dream of the West Coast’s mountains and forests while listening to The Mohawk Lodge.
When I was 18, I lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia for a year while attending the University of King’s College.
Back when I was deciding where to go for school, I knew I wasn’t going to leave Toronto for a city with a lame music scene. But Halifax’s scene was legit. I’d be alright there. Not only did the city have a history of producing greats like Eric’s Trip and Sloan, but it was still impressing the rest of Canada with Joel Plaskett, Dog Day, and especially Wintersleep. The latter had just released 2007’s Welcome To The Night Sky, their third release but first to really break them out. Some of the album’s songs, like “Archeologist” and “Weighty Ghosts”, have since become minor Canada indie classics.
Wintersleep followed …Night Sky with 2010’s New Inheritors. Apparently it was a critical and commercial success, but I don’t remember hearing about it at the time, and still haven’t really gotten into it. In 2012 they released Hello Hum. I was still in Toronto when it came out but I can’t remember hearing about its release then either. One day this year though, after listening to …Night Sky again, I realized that the band no doubt had other albums that I hadn’t heard, so I searched them up on Spotify and saw the newer two (though their first two weren’t there).
I was drawn to Hello Hum from the get go because of its glacial cover. And then when I pressed play on opener “Hum”, rising out of the silence I heard the eerie, phasing sound of a synth, followed by cavernous, ramshackle drums and cold maritime guitars. Musically, it sounded like the album’s cover: glacial. You could find elements of “Weight Ghost”‘s charming campfire sing-along vibe in “Unzipper”, “Nothing Is Anything (Without You)”, and the chorus of “Resuscitate”. “Archeologist”‘s pin-point ambient attack had lived on in “Rapture”‘s stuttering beat. And then there were the beautiful comes downs: the lonely last call of “Saving Song”; the floating “Someone Somewhere”. “In Came The Flood” is also a great song.
“Hello Hum” may not feel as classic and emblematic of its time and place as “Welcome To The Night Sky”, but overall it’s probably the better album. It’s more interesting and in some way more consistent. But whatever, they’re both great. Listening to it, I remember when I was 18 and my mom and I went to visit Halifax to check the city out before I decided to move there. I remember loving its cold, pleasant seaside feel. The celtic bars with wooden floors. The sloping roads around its antiquated harbour, seemingly unchanged since the time of the great Halifax Explosion. And the city’s odd, sometimes desolate small-town feel, despite being the biggest population hub in the maritime.
After a couple months, I couldn’t stand that desolate feeling anymore and longed to return to the bustle of Toronto. But in the beginning, the cold quiet of the city felt like a promise to me of new beginning, as I left my home to begin the next phase of my life. For that, I’ll always have a soft-spot for Halifax and its bands.
In 2012, I boarded an Aerosvit flight to Tel Aviv with a stopover in Kiev. I had just said goodbye to my girlfriend of two years to go join the Israeli army, and we’d both agreed that last hug in the airport would mark the end of the relationship. I spent the next five hours listening to The Thrills‘ heartbreaking final album Teenager, crying my eyes out in-between two very confused Ukrainians.
The Thrills came out of the garage-rock revival of the early aughts. Of course, they were lumped in with all the other ‘The’ bands, even though they weren’t really much like any of them. But if The Strokes were the new Velvets and The White Stripes were the minimalist punk version of Led Zeppelin, The Thrills were the Irish Beach Boys of the scene. Their first album, 2003’s So Much For The City, was an ode to fun in the sun and the heartbreaking beauty of youth. Critics responded well to it and the album hit #1 in Ireland. Their second album, 2004’s Let’s Bottle Bohemia, received a less enthusiastic critical reception but again made #1 in Ireland and even outdid its predecessor’s performance on the American Heatseakers and Billboard charts.
Then in 2007 the band released Teenager. Critics loved it the most of all three of the band’s albums, but commercially it performed worst by a considerable margin. I’m still not sure why. Teenager wasn’t a ‘difficult’ album. The songwriting, if anything, was stronger, poppier and more consistent than anything in the band’s oeuvre. Was it a marketing thing? Were people just too eager to find the newest, hottest bands to pay attention to a bunch of Irish dudes who released a song or two they liked in 2003? Whatever the case, Teenager‘s under-appreciation is tragic. It’s one of the most beautiful albums of the last decade and hands down the band’s best.
Ironically, considering the title, Teenager is about growing up and settling down. It’s about cherishing the memory of those fun times in the sun as they fade away in life’s rear view mirror. Maybe people just weren’t into that, the album’s of undercurrent of sadness, when they pressed play in 2007, but it was precisely what made Teenager so special, and I recognized it immediately. I guess Pet Sounds had the same problem with listeners in its time. But people appreciate Pet Sounds now; anyone who knows music knows that’s Brian Wilson‘s masterpiece. But nobody talks about Teenager, and that’s shame. “This year could be our year,” sang frontman Conor Deasy on “This Year”, one of the album’s best tracks. Until Teenager gets the respect it deserves, every year could be The Thrills‘ year. And one of these years it will be.